From Print to Web: Tips for the Transitioning Writer


img_pen_keyboardThanks to a few lucky opportunities at school, my transition from print to web was a gradual process, and a move that I made voluntarily. That’s not the case for a large number of writers currently making the same transition. The print journalism and publishing industries are in big trouble, with no sign of turning a corner anytime soon. More and more print publications are switching to the web, and finding it hard to deal with the fact that they can’t just move their existing content and keep on doing the same thing.

Likewise, writers can’t just keep producing the same kind of content for a different medium. The web, and its readers, demands a different kind of writing, delivered in a different way. It can hard to find the right mix, especially if you’ve spent your entire professional life writing one way, only to be asked to completely change that up. Here are some tips and resources to help get a handle on just what kind of change is required.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s an old maxim, but one that doesn’t seem to lose its validity no matter how much time goes by or how many technological changes we may experience. If you want to learn something new, you need to practice it. For online writing, there are a number of different ways you could go about it.

First, there’s good ol’ rewriting. Find a source, or better yet, a number of sources of writing samples that resemble the type of working you’re aiming to do. Then try to produce a similar piece, maintaining the spirit of the original(s), but incorporating your own take. When you’re examining your sources, pay special attention to what they all share, and, when you’ve written your own version, look for things that your piece has that the others don’t. It may be a useful innovation, but maybe it’s something from print that’s extraneous to web writing.

You could also use a prompt, which is not just a useful tool for creative writing, no matter what you may have heard in high school. You could try coming up with your own, based on the area you’re interested in, but you might also want to use a prompt list or generator. has one specifically created for blogging and online writing, so it’s probably a good place to start looking.

Twitter Is Your Friend

I can hear some of my old English professors cringing at what Twitter could potentially mean for the future of the English language. Regardless, if you plan on writing online, you should get better acquainted with the beast. And it doesn’t have to be an entirely one-sided relationship, either. There’s a lot your writing can gain from Twitter. For example, it trains you to respect brevity, a key skill for writing online.

It can also benefit you in other ways. You can find a healthy list of those benefits over at Write for Your Life, in an article called “How Twitter can help you improve, market and publish your creative writing”. A large number of the advantages he lists focus on the networking advantages Twitter presents. All you have to do is partake in #editorchat or #journochat to see what’s possible. Also check out #writing for tons of great tips, comments, and worthwhile people to follow.

Those are just a few general ideas to get you started, but at least you won’t feel adrift in an unfamiliar sea. Perhaps most importantly, you have to give yourself time to adjust, because otherwise it’s easy to make missteps and end up making an early gaffe if you venture in without taking the lay of the land. Stay tuned for more tips on making the switch.

Have you switched from writing for print to online? Share your tips in the comments.



Great premise for a post, and very helpful.
Just FYI, there’s now a job board specifically for unemployed newspaper professionals:

There’s also an interesting blog post by Marci Alboher (former New York Times careers blogger) about the future for journalists:

Her post highlights the idea that journalists need to acquire the skills to become free agents/entrepreneurs.


I believe that there are some differences between print and web writers. I saw the differences first when i started myself to work like a web writer and i have a friend who’s working as a print writer.

Rob Oakes

Thanks for the article, and for the follow-up comments. I’ve found them to be very interesting. In the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with a pretty simple blog, which has opened up my eyes to how challenging it can be to build an audience of any sort. Might there be any hope of additional posts that document your switch from print to the web?

Iain Broome

Many thankyoos for the nod towards Write for Your Life. I do think there’s a tendency for writers to bury their head in the sand and assume that people, their audience, will come to them. In this day and age, we are our own marketeers. As writers, we have to take a lot of the responsibility for getting our work ‘out there’. Especially in fiction and even more so poetry. Twitter can help us do that.

Anyway, thanks again. Hope my article was useful.


Know how to distribute your posts. I had once a client (a sports publication) that did first both things, print and web, and the idea we had for him was that the magazine had this complementary feeling to it (both were free) so an article online lead you to more info in print.

When the print came down, it was only web for a while and he didn’t quite grasped the timing for his posts (it should be more regularly updated to keep the audience interested).

He also had a radio show for a while, which we wanted to get redistributed as podcasts. Whenever they talked about almost anything on the radio, you would clearly see spikes of interest in the website’s content.

Alas, this economic downturn made him switch interests away from this ideas.


Drip your content, it’s better to have some posts daily or weekly than a lot of posts monthly.

Lists are king. Related content, a profile of your writer that has his/her latest post, a featured list to the side… Keep your audience interested on you.

Mind your ads. Nobody likes publicity shoved down our throats. So keep them there but keep them classy.

Let the user interact. Flash and cool animations doesn’t mean interaction. A website is truly interactive when the audience can do more than just click a link. Let them speak their minds. Not only comments but also contact forms and such. Hear them.

Speak frankly (and let your writers do the same). Remember that editorial page you had on your print edition? Nowadays it’s not uncommon to have a Blog inside your online publication.

Flex your creative muscles. Just because your current CMS solution doesn’t support creative content layouts, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek new ways to do it. Break out of tradition every once in a while.

Keep me posted. Offering RSS and Newsfeeds is good, but follow up segments and dispatching ideas through tweeter might get me hooked.

Good luck with the transition, keep your mind positive and good stuff is bound to happen!

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